Pollution and climate change have drastically affected the population of pollinating insects like bees, flies etc. Pollinators play an important role in plant kingdom and their reduced count is a reason of concern. A team of scientists in Japan is trying hard to bring technological help in form of tiny pollen-collecting drones covered in a sticky gel and animal hairs.
The research was initiated in 2007 when it was observed that sticky ionic gels can be used as a pollen collecting medium. This came as a thought from a failed experiment in a Japanese Lab where ionic gel was formed as a residue. It has a property of not losing its stickiness for as long as 8 years, which can’t be expected from a conventional water based gel.
Researchers took an interesting path to test its effectiveness in reality. They put droplets of it onto the backs of ants, and had them wander around in a box full of tulips. As it was expected, ants with the test material on their back gathered much more pollens than those without gel.
After proving gel’s ability to accumulate pollen grains, the next step was to replicate functioning of bees in pollination process. Few inexpensive drones were bought to replicate the flight and a horse hair wig was used to give the robo-bee its hair cover. The experiment gave amazing results. With a combination of the hair and gel, the team flew the drones from flower to flower, in this case Japanese lilies, and found that they were effective artificial pollinators.
The kind of solution provided by Japanese scientists is more effective than ever before and can get even better with inclusion of geo-location to learn pollination paths. Further tests on houseflies confirmed that the gel can also help in camouflage as it changed color to different source of light. This would protect the gelled bees from predators.
The research was originally published in the journal Chem.
Source: New Atlas.